As the NBA Summer League winds down, the court will be filled with a crop of newcomers that joined the Detroit Pistons just a few weeks ago. The rookies got to show their stuff, and now it’s up to the basketball vagabonds to catch someone’s eye. The Pistons’ Summer League blue unis a temporary way station as they look to catch on in the G League or overseas. What isn’t common for a Summer League team is to find a franchise’s longest tenured player.
Killian Hayes is entering a critical year with a team option looming and younger, more exciting names now filling Detroit’s back court. The Pistons have given the former seventh overall pick every opportunity to perform. Now it is up to him find a way to stick entering year three.
Some nice things are falling into place for Hayes to play a more natural role coming into the 2022-23. While the addition of Jaden Ivey may seem like competition to Hayes, their games could complement each other nicely. With Ivey’s athletic attack, Hayes won’t be counted on as much as an off-ball scorer.
Assuming Ivey starts at the other guard spot alongside Cade Cunningham, Hayes now has an opportunity to be a primary playmaker running a second unit where he showed flashes last year. A full year of good health should help him as well, as he as only played a combined 92 games in two seasons.
Of course, you have higher hopes than a reliable backup for a former top-10 selection. But the Pistons picked consensus best players available at picks No. 1 and No. 5 and came away with Cunningham and Ivey, respectively. Those players should be counted on more. But every team relies on more than two guards, and those backups play big roles that determine a team’s success, and backup point guard even more-so.
Before we get to the good with the Frenchman, we can quickly summarize the well-known not-so-good areas of Hayes’ game. Without an improvement to his jump shot, it will be difficult for him to find a niche in the league. His free-throw and three-point percentages both took slight dips last season on similar attempts from his rookie campaign. Teams have been easy to collapse on his drives and are able to play more physically. He’s an average finisher and can run into issues naturally creating separation.
Hayes was thrown into the fire in year one, suffered an injury, and when he returned toward the end of the year it took time to look even slightly comfortable. To begin year two, he was forced into a brand new off-ball role that he was unaccustomed. That’s tough for a kid who entering year 3 still isn’t of legal drinking age in America. Aside from a drop in turnovers, his offensive stats didn’t take the jump that many hoped. This was mainly due to Cunningham taking more control as the primary ball handler.
Hayes’ size stands out, and you’d like to see him be more physical with drives to the rim. If the shooting woes continue, he will at least have to learn how to draw fouls in the paint, and he did seem more focused on aggressively driving in the last month of the season. He uses his size well to defend and has turned into one of Detroit’s better on-ball perimeter defenders. If nothing else, Killian is solid on that side of the court and can be trusted there.
As a passer, Hayes will show flashes of brilliance. In transition particularly, he does well in pushing the ball quickly and finding guys in tight windows. For him to maximize his potential as a distributor, the scoring will have to come first. Teams are expecting the pass in most situations and often anticipate it. Becoming a more robust scoring threat will open up countless doors to finding others.
There will be opportunities this year for Hayes to prove he can be more valuable than what has shown on the stat sheet. He came into the league as the youngest player in his draft class and it’s showed. Now, Detroit is counting on him to not only perform, but be a leader on and off the floor.
The keys to the car that is the Pistons have been handed to Cunningham, but that doesn’t mean Hayes can’t borrow it on the weekends. In a backup point role, he will have the ability to play his style with much lessened pressure.